28 March 2017

So, It's Weird: A Review of The Destructives, Matthew De Abaitua

With the child suddenly invited to evening events, we, his parents, have discovered the 5:30 dinner date. Maybe this is how the early bird special spun out of control - tired parents, wanting to drink they buns off but unwilling to sacrifice sleep. At our most recent pre-sunset hot date, I attempted to describe The Destructives. Even with the table sprinkled with half empty cocktails, my husband's vacant stare had less to do with the upended bevies and everything to do with my weirdness. I am weirdo. I enjoy 9:00 p.m bedtimes, hours of bench sitting, an aversion to movie-watching, a lust for Survivor and an overarching desire to read really weird shit.

My shadowing of the shadow jury for the Arthur C. Clarke award has created a conundrum. Thank the Maker at its design heart is to persuade my small tribe of friends to read science fiction. I read, it's my lot in life and yet 99% of those I call dear dislike SF. As I cloak myself in the shadows of the Clarke award, the intentions of my posts move further from being actualized. No one, beyond a handful of right-minded nutters who I have managed to befriend are going to read any of these shadow books. How does one argue to the non-geeks that the hive-minded, city-wide jellyfish, living in the underground oceans of Europa that so happens to be humanity's key to survival is something they need to read on about? 

I have had my moments with magic, dragons, lyrical, historical alternative, dystopian futures but what sings true for this girl are the novels that go beyond my expectations - dangling science all the while blatantly ignoring known universal truths. Discovering an author willing to explore the boundaries of science fiction is the pulse that keeps the genre alive. Only science fiction can expand perceptions of humanity by alienating ourselves, deconstructing that what we hold dear, all in the hopes of coming closer to the meaning of life. 

Plus, space ships are cool. You know it.

The question begs to be asked, is Matthew De Abaitua's novel, The Destructives worth reading? The third installment of a lose, stand-alone type of trilogy, The Destructives finds humankind blunted, falling slowly into extinction as AI evolves as the dominant species. The world economy has been disrupted by a single loop (gif) of a mother hugging her teenage daughter. The Seizure is decades in the past, AI has decamped to the Sun, and our protagonist, Theodore Drown is working as professor at the University of the Moon. An anthropological expert on Pre-Seizure culture, Theodore is asked to investigate an archive of data. What follows is an epic tale of weirdness that frankly has left me incapable of properly expressing without dropping down some serious spoilers. 

Highly engaging novel, definitely perplexing, The Destructives is inescapably sci-fi. If you don't like weird shit, this weirdness is not for you. 

13 March 2017

Perspective: A Review of Central Station, Lavie Tidhar

My grade 11 Social Studies teacher once assigned a behavioural anthropologic essay from the viewpoint of an alien visiting Earth for only one day. What would resonate? Would alien observations of our daily interactions at high school devise an elaborate synopsis that we, as a race were uniquely programmed to respond to the sound of a bell? The furious scurryings, combined with anxiety to be late, surely humans must be bell responsive. I marvel upon the exercise's unique ability to showcase perspective, observations and facts.

Although, memory fails me regarding my original hypotheses, I currently would assert weather as the mundane provocateur. Find me a Canadian that has not been educated on the fine art of weather chatting. A recent visit to a small town in the Okanogan found me chatting with a a complete stranger about the heat. The act of him stopping in the middle of street to lean out of his window to jaw on about the humidity might seem alarming, for us Canucks it is simply the sweet charm of living up here. Don't want to come across as rude, go on about the rain.

Snowflakes swirl beyond my living room window. And while this scene would bring endless joy to my winter heart, I cringe as the snow begins to mound. Like Lavie Tidhar's novel, Central Station, perspective is the name of this game. My annual pilgrimage to the Sonoran desert looms, yet the current snow event parked over the north-east threatens my near future visit with cacti, the sun and my Mom. 

Central Station by Lavie Tidhar is the space story I had yet to read. Humanity has taken to the skies, terraforming the Moon, living subterraneanly on Mars, expanding beyond our current global vantage point. The Conversation, a vast, complex virtual force that can be traced back to the internet is as necessary as air to survive. History is dense, wars long forgotten continue to haunt the darkened alleyways in the form of abandoned cyborg soldiers - once humankind's heroes now their collective embarrassment. Babies are designed. Earth's horizon is marred by gigantic space stations - each a towering city, affecting localized weather patterns, breeding new religions, all the while offering the stars. 

" A worldwide diaspora has left a quarter of a million people at the foot of a space station. Cultures collide in real life  and virtual reality. The city is a weed, its growth left unchecked. Life is cheap and data is cheaper." - Central Station, Lavie Tidhar

Lavie Tidhar has created a far-reaching fantastical future that feels concurrently alarmingly exotic yet satisfyingly familiar. Within a short timespan we peak into the lives of an interwoven group of people, all, searching. The story of life, the need for acceptance, the desires and sorrows of the heart remain true, whatever the century. This is the story of the every man, woman, robot, sentient creature, data-vampire, that falls in love, finds religion, eventually losing both all the while managing to survive. It is the story of family - the need to remember and the cost of holding too dear to that very past. 

Central Station breathes new life into the genre - more so thanks to it's non-American slant, bringing this SF story to Tel Aviv, highlighting Judaic culture, mingling the elements of the migrant. Central Station is not an everyday space story, just as this does not appear to be your average snow storm. 

17 January 2017

So Many Things: A Review of The Thing Itself, Adam Roberts

It's gross outside - grey, rainy, cold, the perfect day for writing. Yet here I sit, barely able to cohesively construct a single sentence delaying this post with tedious chores. Once in awhile a book comes my way that seems impossible to review. With bashful chagrin, I simply might not be wily enough to express what the hell is going on in The Thing Itself.

Megan from Couch to Moon  insisted that Adam Roberts novel is the book I needed to read. Not one to ever ignore that lady's perception of a good read, I put it on my reading gift list this past holiday season. With a no-book buying policy, Christmas has become that day in December when books seem to fall from reading heaven. It is a glorious day made complete because of my husband's willingness to buy his geeky wife all her nerdy SF books. It's nice having a husband support your geeky ways, even knowing his life is in jeopardy if he were to crack a book spine or leave a copy splayed open. Our happy marriage hinges upon good book care and a willingness to hear each other's relationship with UFOs. He, being the intense believer, scanning the internet for new sightings and me, the woman who has agreed to move to Newfoundland the moment the invasion begins. 

But what about Kant....

Much to my puzzlement The Thing Itself's cover and synopsis desperately attempt to align to the cinematic horror, The Thing. Not surprisingly, The Thing so happens to be my husband's worst nightmare having imprinted a deep hatred for snow and psychotic aliens on him as a wee lad. Let me be clear, the novel is not an ode to the movie - for that read Peter Watts short story, The Things. Then once you have read that nightmare, drink some herbal tea while watching The Wizard of Oz. You will need a yellow-brick road to pull you from out of your catatonic state of terror. 

The Thing Itself familiarly opens to a research station in Antartica with two astrophysicists on a long-term contract to monitor SETI. This has got to be about The Thing, how can it not! But here is the thing, Adam Roberts may happen to be one of the best writers I have read in years. By relying upon the reader's attachment to the film, he masterfully displays Kant's theory of reality. It's brilliant but only conceivable once you have read the book. 

But really, what about Kant...

Immaniel Kant, an 18th century philosopher argued that humanities perception of reality is constructed by the mind. Space and time is not an objective universal constant but a reflection of our sensibilities. The world as itself is independent of these concepts and nearly impossible for humanity to even properly discern. It is heady stuff, not one for this girl to in any way proclaim proper understanding. Thankfully, Kant's  The Critique of Pure Reason  entwined with the Fermi Paradox is entertainingly confined within a possible first contact/suspense story. The very thing itself becomes slightly less murky because Adam Roberts is a writing genius.

I like this book quite a bit, so much that I believe that it is the book you need in your life. Have you ever wondered why SF readers enjoy SF so much? The Thing Itself quantifies all that is exciting in current science fiction. While I most definitely am getting beyond myself, The Thing Itself is this girl's read of 2017.

3 January 2017

Exploration: A Review of 2016

A walk through the neighbourhood, combined with an excursion to the local outdoor rink for family night skating, 2017 has been all of the things. As I climbed into bed on New Year's Eve, satisfyingly ignoring the festivities beyond my window, I woke to sun. 2016 was anything but kind to my family, the passing of my father left me emotionally stranded on a frozen, cracked lake. Incapable of expressing the abyss, I found solace in my family, gathering joy as I witnessed my son bounce through his weeks to Christmas. Although this new year will be my first without Dad, I see limitless avenues of happiness to explore. 

Finding purchase when your world tips askew can lend itself to new beginnings. My 2016 was a mismatch of personal goals wanting to get fit all the while reading and writing. My 50 novel reading channel was smashed by October with a final tally of 68. Site visits to Thank the Maker soared even with a lacklustre showing of only 21 reviews.

I became an Honor Harrington fan, obsessed over the generational ship in Aurora by Kim Stanly Robinson and swam in the poetry that is Station 11.  I wholeheartedly jumped on the bandwagon with  The Fifth Season, and Aftermath. But with all my dalliances with the popular novel, I sank deeply into the odd, extravagantly rich world found in Radiance by Catherynne M. Valente.

I finally read Ursula's K Le Guin's The Left Hand of Darkness, and continue to chastise myself for all the years wasted by not opening this book. We all have moments where we could relive a reading moment:  Dune, War and Peace and now, The Left Hand of Darkness are mine. 2016 began with the YA apocalyptic novel, Archivist Wasp, and closed with The GraceKeepers; two novels dancing within a dystopian future, seeking salvation.

Sitting with my copy of Women of Futures Past I begin my 2017 reading year with the women of science fiction. Kristine Kathryn Rusch's introductory essay, Invisible Women was an awakening experience. Having never attended a 'con' nor dipped my toes into recent Hugo controversies, I was unaware of the struggles women writers have in being recognized. My space operatic tendencies entwined for a love of time travel books, results in me reading primarily female writers. I obviously live in a sheltered, reading world, one at which Bujold, Baker, Willis, Lord, Atwood, Lee, Walton, McCaffrey reign.

With the slow unfolding of all that 2017 will be, here is to the women of science fiction:  we are the readers, the writers, the buyers, the bloggers, the editors, the publishers. We are science fiction. Find the time this year to rejoice in all our womanly yet geeky tendencies. Start your journey with the reading of the short story Angel by Pat Cadigan. It's compact, engaging creepiness will leave you wondering who else you haven't explored.